Thursday, August 21, 2008

Trusting in God – Isaiah 50 (Part 4)

3. The consequences of trusting ourselves and of trusting God.

Who is among you that fears the LORD,
That obeys the voice of His servant,
That walks in darkness and has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
Who encircle yourselves with firebrands,
Walk in the light of your fire
And among the brands you have set ablaze.
This you will have from My hand;
And you will lie down in torment.

- Isaiah 50:10, 11

These verses exhibit the parallelism characteristic of Hebrew poetry. Verse ten deals with the consequences for he who trusts in God, and verse 11 the consequences for he who trusts in himself.

The excuses we often use for trusting in our own efforts or our own devices are rooted in the circumstances we find ourselves. “I can’t trust God, I’m a practical man!”,“I have no time for prayer.”, “I’m a man of action!”. “The night is so dark and I am so frightened, I will do anything I can to keep the darkness at bay.” Yet our verse shows that just when we are most likely to trust in our own efforts and wisdom is the time to trust in God. We trust in God not despite the darkness, but because of the darkness. We trust in God in the darkness because we know kindling a fire and encircling ourselves with flames and walking by the light of our own fire are all insufficient. Instead, we rely on God, because we know we are unreliable. We lean on God, because we know, we need something to lean on.

One common complaint about Christians is that we think we are better than everyone else. What an indictment! Believers are no better than anyone else. We follow God because we know we’re no better, because we know on our own we are weak and powerless and selfish. Perhaps is we could learn to trust in God more, if we could stop trying to rely on ourselves to solve our problems or “be good”, the critics would be silenced by the recognition that we walk by faith, not by sight, just as the Servant of God did.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Trusting in God – Isaiah 50 (Part 3)

2. What we can learn about trusting in God from the example of Jesus.

The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples,
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.

The Lord GOD has opened My ear;
And I was not disobedient,
Nor did I turn back.

I gave My back to those who strike Me,
And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;
I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.

For the Lord GOD helps Me,
Therefore, I am not disgraced;
Therefore, I have set My face like flint,
And I know that I shall not be ashamed.

He who vindicates Me is near;
Who will contend with Me?
Let us stand up to each other;
Who has a case against Me?
Let him draw near to Me.

Behold, the Lord GOD helps Me;
Who is he who condemns Me?
Behold, they will all wear out like a garment;
The moth will eat them.
- Isaiah 50:4-9

These verses are written from the point of view of the Servant of God (in this case, referring to the Messiah) and saw fulfillment when Jesus was handed over to be crucified.

We sometimes think that Jesus, the suffering but obedient servant of God, actually did not have a hard time understanding the Lord’s will or having the courage to be obedient because He is God and has always been God. To think in such a way however, betrays a poor grasp of the incarnation and the persons of the Godhead. Jesus, though wholly God, is also obedient to the Father and submissive to His will. Verses 4,5 show Him taking on the role of obedient disciple of God, who inclines His ear to the Lord’s instructions. The servant learns and grows, and we know that Jesus too grew and increased in stature with God and man.

Not only was Jesus attentive to the Lord God, but He was obedient. He did not merely look at the Word and so deceive Himself, He did what it says (James 1:22-25). And this obedience continued despite suffering and shame (vs. 6) greater than that which Israel has yet endured. In both these ways, Jesus not only sets us an example, but robs us of any excuse for our own disobedience! He remaned faithful, despite suffering.

The result, of course, was God helping Him, vindicating Him, removing condemnation and shame, restoring confidence (not in self, but in God). So too, we can have confidence and freedom from condemnation, we can live in forgiveness (Romans 8) when God comes to our aid.

So, what do we learn from the Servant about trusting in God? We learn that the very thing that invites the suffering (being a disciple vv. 4,5) is also the thing that gives us strength, confidence, and vindication. The answer lies in living the life of a disciple, listening to God day by day, inclining our ear as a disciple and giving a word in season to others. May God help us faithfully serve Him and listen to His Word.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trusting in God (Isaiah 50) - Part 2

Why we fail to trust in God.

Thus says the LORD, "Where is the certificate of divorce By which I have sent your mother away? Or to whom of My creditors did I sell you? Behold, you were sold for your iniquities, And for your transgressions your mother was sent away.

"Why was there no man when I came? When I called, why was there none to answer? Is My hand so short that it cannot ransom? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, I dry up the sea with My rebuke, I make the rivers a wilderness; Their fish stink for lack of water And die of thirst.

I clothe the heavens with blackness, And make sackcloth their covering."
- Isaiah 50:1-3

When God seems far off, or we suffer calamities of many kinds, or we lack a genuine love for others, we sometimes ask why God is causing these things, or allowing them to happen. There are many different reasons, but in verse one, it’s clear in the context of our passage that God (temporarily) abandons Israel leaves her to her own devices, not because God no longer cares, or is unable, or unwilling to help, but because of their sin.

It is worth noting that though we often think that if our sin or failure to trust God has any effect, it is only on us. But here God declares that there is a residual effect of sin on those around (both you and “your mother”). For us as a family, this means that sin never happens in isolation or has no influence or effect on the harmony and happiness of the rest of the family. So, we are learning to seek God and depend upon Him, not just because He commands it, and not just for our own sakes, but also for the sake of those we mingle with.

In this instance, what was their sin? It was failing to trust God. He came near to ransom, but they had already turned elsewhere, as though God were incapable of helping, or as if He who controls Creation, has power over seas and rivers or any necessities of life is powerless to help or to deliver.

As with many truths about God, this is two-edged. He who has power to deliver also has power to discipline. Verse 3 uses strongly apocalyptic language (echoes of which are heard in Revelation 6:12) and the suggestion seems to be that if trust is insufficient motivation to lean upon the Lord, perhaps fear is.

So, why do we fail to trust God? When faced with a problem, why do we seek our help in friends, books, counsellors, our own skills, money, intelligence or countless other false securities? Perhaps pride (“I don’t need God’s help”), or convenience (“Oh, I know how to solve this problem! I’ll just do such and such..”, or flat out rebellion (“I won’t submit to His autocratic manipulation!”, or unthinking ignorance (“Oh yeah, perhaps I should have turned to God there.” The bottom-line is, such failure to trust in God and lean upon His mercy is sinful and, at some level, idolatry: elevating something above God.

Next time, we’ll consider how we can learn to trust God by following the example of Jesus.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Trusting in God – Isaiah 50 (Part 1)

One of the things we appreciate about Grimsby Bible Church is the desire to study and submit to the entirety of the Bible. One of the ways we have tried to do that is by systematically studying entire books of the Bible expositionally. The Wednesday night Bible Study group at Grimsby has been going through the book of Isaiah for the past several months and I recently led the group through a brief look at Isaiah 50.

Isaiah 50 is near the beginning of the section of Isaiah (chapters 49-55) that deals with the “Servant of God”. These chapters are among the most frequently cited of Isaiah, but are none-the-less difficult to interpret properly for two main reasons. The Servant sometimes refers to Israel and sometimes to the Messiah and the difference is seldom explicit so we need to infer from the context which meaning is being used. Secondly, as in all of Isaiah (and most Biblical prophecy), the point of view of the narrative shifts frequently (sometimes God is speaking, sometimes Israel, sometimes Isaiah) and there are sometimes very few markers in the text to help us identify the transitions.

In the case of Isaiah 50, the Servant refers to the Messiah and vv 1-3 have God speaking, vv 4- 9 have the Messiah speaking and it concludes in vv 10, 11 with the prophet Isaiah proclaiming.

With that in mind, I outlined Isaiah 50 thus:
1. Why we fail to trust in God.
2. How we can learn to trust Him.
3. The consequences of trusting God and of trusting ourselves.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Written on Our Hearts

Hebrews 8:10

In the Marsh house we have been committed to having a near-daily Worship Time for several years now (I capitalize it to distinquish it from our other teaching times and daily, informal discipling). We have tried different formats, times and frequencies and, while some approaches have been more successful than others, we are grateful that God’s given us sufficient grace to continue on.

Our goal has been to teach our children that the worship of God is an integral part of our daily lives and of who we are as a family. To that end, our times of worship involve singing songs of praise to God, memorizing Scripture, praying and teaching from the Bible, and we try to make it a priority above other activities.

As the chidren have aged, we have changed the emphasis of our Worship Times. While they were very, very young and not yet professing believers, we spent much time giving factual information about God and the faith. Now that two of them are believers, we are spending more and more time working on practical applications of what they have learned. Through it all, I have often forgotten that what is important is not how I will mould and modify my children’s behaviour, but how God will change their hearts, and thereby modify their behaviour.

What is true of them, is equally true of me, and of all who follow Christ. While studying the Scriptures and looking to the truth of God are vital, may we never forget that it is God who writes His Law on our hearts and minds, and God who conforms us to the image of His beloved Son.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

New Name, New Banner

So, I hope everyone likes the new banner. It took me long enough to make it (I know, it doesn’t look like it, but that just shows how technically inept I am).

When we started this blog, it seemed like a good idea to focus on the ten commandments, to keep it from becoming too wide ranging and unfocused. However, as time went by, I increasingly found that what I really wanted to write about wasn’t the ten commandments specifically, but the manner in which we, as a family, are growing and striving to be more obedient to the Lord. In other words, how we Marshes fulfill John 15:14 together. Hence, the new name: 15:14 for Six: John 15:14 as it applies to the six Marshes.

One way we try to learn to serve the Lord more faithfully is through our family worship times: hence the new banner showing us singing together recently. In a future post, I will write about how we structure our worship times and what we have gained from them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Back from Hiatus

Some people have asked where I’ve been and the answer is: All over! A couple months ago, I decided I wanted to slightly change the focus of the blog (to better reflect what I was interested in writing about). Of course, once I decided on the change of focus, I thought I should change the name, and maybe add a banner, and perhaps change the entire purpose, and… it’s now July. To those who have been asking about updates, my apologies. Hopefully, I’ll be more regular from here on in.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Disciplined for Godliness

Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.
- I Timothy 4:7

Each year I try to take at least one solo canoe trip, usually at the very beginning or very end of the season. There are several reasons for it (beyond the mere fun of canoeing) but probably the primary purpose is to spend time alone in the near-wilderness. I have found it to be a consistently profitable experience to work hard all day and think and reflect. There is some combination of physical exertion, fresh air and solitude that has always yielded fresh spiritual insights in to the state of my family and my life.

On my most recent trip, I was convicted of the need for us Marshes to live a more disciplined life. We had gotten in to habits which, while not directly bad, distracted us from our real family goals of glorifying God and living peaceful and quiet lives (among other things). In other words, we were wasting time. The result was children (and parents) getting insufficient sleep, still not accomplishing all our daily jobs, and making little progress. I was convicted that by wasting time, killing time, passing time, we were not showing due gratitude to God for His gift of time. God has given a limited amount of time to us (only He knows precisely how much) and I wonder how often we neglect to treat it as the precious commodity it is because we have forgotten how little of it we have, and squander it.

To that end, we have instituted a relatively strict wake-up time in the Marsh home. While formerly the children were able to sleep almost as long as they liked, these days they are all awakened at the same time and we have breakfast together as a family before I head off to work and they begin their morning jobs and school. So far, God has blessed our efforts. We have found we’ve been much more effective at school and work, are sleeping better, and, most importantly, are reaping the spiritual benefits the extra time brings. We have all experienced better times of study and prayer and are enjoying the nearer communion with God and each other that has resulted. And that, after all, is the point: we discipline ourselves, not so that we can be efficient or pious, but for the purpose of godliness.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Seeing God

'Like an east wind I will scatter them
Before the enemy;
I will show them My back and not My face
In the day of their calamity.'"

Jeremiah 18:17

This verse is the culmination of God’s threatened judgement for the idolatry of Judah and Jerusalem begun in verse 11. It struck me when reading it recently that of all the judgements and punishments God declares against them (making their land a desolation, scattering them), the final judgement is that He will turn His face from them. Of all the punishments that God can mete out, this is the most severe: to us off from Himself and hide His face from us.

It seems that the times that are most difficult for me, the burdens that are hardest to bear, are those that do not accompany a deep awareness of God’s presence. What a horror to think of a life without the comforting presence of God to cheer and to guide my family and me. It is a horror that will be experienced by many when, in the last day, Jesus will declare to them :'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' – Matt. 7:23.

I am so grateful that though we often turn our backs on God, He never turns His back completely on us, that there is always room for repentance and restoration, until the final day. I am also thankful that He has promised to preserve us to the end until we will finally see Him face to face forever.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Havner on Extremism

If we preach the whole counsel of God, we shall be accused of extremism, not only by the world but also by a professing church that cannot endure sound doctrine.
Vance Havner

Monday, April 07, 2008

Beware the Extreme!

Last month I read The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism by Count de Marenches and David Andelman. de Marecnhes was the head of SDECE (France's intelligence agency) from 1970 to 1981 and had a number of very controversial things to say.

Written in 1992, I remember reading this book in 1998 and thinking Marenches was a kook, based in part on statements like this:

"…the very essence of the enemy embodies a new form – which is what makes the Fourth World War so much more deadly, and desperate. Our enemy this time is the theological fanatic. Such a fanatic will never be happy as long as there is one member of his detested opposition left alive. .. it will be the heart of increasingly broader conflicts in the battles of the Fourth World War."

Essentially, Marenches was positing a fourth global conflict (the Cold War being the third) that would pit the West against small groups of deadly and fanatical terrorists and the occasional rogue states that supported them. This, just a few years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the "End of History" and the "Peace Dividend"!

He claimed that Europe and North America were not taking the threat seriously, but was optimistic that this would change. It took nine years, but what looked like alarmist rantings in 1992 look positively astute in light of September 11, 2001:

"My hope for the future enlightenment of the Americans springs from… my certainty that international terrorism will finally find its way to their shores. That is not something I would wish on my most mortal enemy, let alone my friends. But if the terrorist threat has the effect of shaking up the American people and especially their leadership, then it will have had some value. The Americans until now have led a relatively charmed and sheltered existence. Terrorist incidents involving Americans or American property have all happened far from the territory of the United States. "

"Many of the circumstances are changing, though. With international terrorism now nearly two decades old, its leaders have become adept at, even smug about, operating in any type of environment. The FBI is beginning to look no more threatening that France’s DST or Great Britain’s MI5. The Untied States may soon seem a soft and tempting mark. And it will only take one successful terrorist operation there to convince the terrorist international that the United States is a promising new and virtually untapped well of targets for their violence."

I did not take the warnings seriously, and neither did anyone else. Could the events of September 11, 2001 been avoided had the Americans taken seriously de Marenches' call to arms? It's impossible to say, but more vigilence would not have been amiss.

Why have I devoted a post to this book? Simply because it is a lesson to us all to always examine a claim in light of objective truth and not reject it simply because it runs contrary to what "everybody knows" or because it is "extreme". It is a sad commentary on our current culture, that the litmus tests for arguments seems to be not, primarily, whether they are true, but whether they are "extreme" or "offensive". Revolutionary ideas almost always seem extreme and offensive. Jesus’ words to the scribes, Pharisees, sinners and smug, self-righteous, religious nationalists of His day of were both "offensive" and "extreme", but never the less, true and still hold the key to abundant and eternal life.

Things that are extreme or revolutionary are not always true, but neither are they, by definition false. When encountering unfamiliar ideas, may we have discernment and wisdom to be able to look beyond our cultural biases and fear of the "extreme" to see clearly those ideas which are true and revolutionary and may ultimately be for our good.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Rejoicing Parents

Continuing my presentation to the youth, I continued on from having looked at some of the reasons to obey parents to some practical goals for youth with respect to their parents. More correctly, I suggested one goal: instead of seeking to merely obey their parents, perhaps they might think about how to delight their parents.

Proverbs 23:25 - "May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!"

But how? How do we bring gladness and joy to our parents. In addition to obedience, it seems that a life lived in wisdom and righteousness will bring joy to any parent.

Proverbs 10:1 - "A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother."

Proverbs 23:24 - "The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him."

The young people responded incredibly well to this challenge and we spent a good time discussing ways in which to bless our parents, particularly as it related to growing in holiness, righteousness, and wisdom. As I have written before, many of the children live in very awkward circumstances, but (or perhaps, because of this) they have a genuine hunger for the truth of the Bible and an encouraging responsiveness when it is presented to them.

Monday, March 31, 2008

What I've been reading

From left to right:
The Temple: Its Ministry and Services
Alfred Edersheim

I have really enjoyed reading this book, which is a good overview of the 1st century temple. Though written well over a century ago, the illustrations and Edersheim's descriptions hold up very well. He very carefully goes through the physical aspects of the temple, then the services and practical organization. The footnotes are never distracting and the illustrations are clear and helpful. I appreciated the manner in which he shows how the temple traditions were established: some by God in the Old Testament, some by rabbis and priests through the intervening centuries.

Edersheim also takes great care to demonstrate how Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecies and symbols of the temple. Best read in several sittings and casually, but certainly worth reading for the depth it adds to our understanding of much of the New Testament. My only caution is that given the age of the book, it does not adequately reflect the research and archeology of the last century.

The Elders of the Church
Lawrence Eyres

This is a book that can be read fairly quickly, but is more than a pamphlet. Eyres is a Presbyterian and it certainly shows in his approach to the ideas of eldership in the church. The early chapters, in which he deals with the more general ideas about eldership (E.g. a church should be governed by a plurality of elders, God calls men to be elders, the qualifications and function of elders), are the best and contain the most biblical evidence. The later chapters (on specific roles and ecclesial issues) are not nearly so well written and, unsurprisingly, contain much less biblical evidence to support his contentions. Despite that short-coming, the final chapters do contain enough good advice (based on years of experience in a local church) that they are worth reading and considering.

If nothing else, his book is a challenge to think biblically and carefully about how and why we select leaders for the local church.

The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism
Count de Marenches and David Andelman

I first read this book (in an overview fashion) in 1998 and ignored the claims Marenches was making. He predicted the War on Terror we now find ourselves in and suggested a number of (often immoral) ways of waging it. Still, this book has valuable lessons which I will be addressing in a future post.

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table
Thomas Mallory (updated and translated by the Illustrated Junior Library)

Read at bedtimes with the children, this book is a relatively faithful adaptation of the Malory version of the Arthurian legends, but sanitized and updated for the 1950 children’s library release. Unfortunately, it combines the worst both worlds: the archaic language of Malory with none of the grandeur or epic feel. So, it was more difficult for the children to understand, but with none of the benefits. Still, the children all enjoyed the book (some more than others).

Also, it was nice to have a children’s version that kept the main elements sweep of the legend (both heroic and tragic). The Pyle version was my first exposure to Arthur, and will always be classic, but its glaring deficiency is the way he ignores or glosses over the less noble aspects of the story.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

One Thing for Children

Continuing the look at Ephesians 6:1-3 that I shared with the youth, we notice that while God has a lot to say and directions to give about how wives should relate to husbands, and husbands to wives, slaves to masters and so on, there is only one requirement he gives to children: obedience. Not only so, but he also gives the rationale for the command (which he does not always do with the others): that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth.

So, I spent a good part of the talk discussing reasons to obey our parents, and they are:

1. Because God commands it.

2. That it may go well for us

3. It is for our good (Prov. 1:8,9)

The idea here was that God has given us parents to be an instrument of His blessing in our lives, that their instruction may “be like a wreath about your head”.

4. It is good preparation. (Prov. 3:1-4, 11-18)

This chapter of Proverbs directly ties obedience to our parents with obedience to and fear of, the Lord. This, in turn, is the basis of all wisdom, for which accrues many benefits to us. One way this applies specifically to the idea of obeying parents is that learning to obey our parents at as young an age as possible, is excellent training for a life of obedience to Jesus Christ. If a child learns to bend his will to the directions of his parents, even when the reasons for the directions are hard to understand, that child will, we pray, find it easier to bend his will to God’s because he will already be accustomed to obedience.

I summarized all of that, by making the statement, "your relationship with Jesus Christ will grow proportionately with you willingness to obey your parents".

Next time, I’ll relate some of the specific goals I shared with the youth with respect to relating to their parents.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thinking About Blogging...

I don't have a lot of time today, but have been thinking about blogs and blogging and how I choose what to write. As a result, my thoughts keep returning to the the saying:

Everything that needs to be said has been said, but not everyone has said it yet.......

How's that for an excuse to not post a very meaningful entry today?

Friday, March 21, 2008

What Are Parents For?

Last time I wrote about some of the questions that the youth I spoke with asked regarding their parents. One statement they didn’t make, but which they all admitted they had exclaimed at their parents in frustration was: "I didn’t ask to be born!".

That’s entirely true. None of us asked to be born. Why did God give us parents? Are they just there to keep teens from doing what they want? Or, is there a deeper, transcendent purpose for which God gave parents?

Unsurprisingly, God has a lot to say about the subject in His Word. In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, the Apostle Paul devotes long sections to establishing principles to guide the relationships that believers have with one another. He spends the first three chapters talking about the unity we enjoy because of what Jesus has done, and the last three outlining practical ways in which these principles can be applied to how we live our lives. So it is that in chapter six, after having given guidance to husbands and wives on how to relate, he comes to speak to children:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.
- Ephesians 6:1-3

The first thing to note from a reading of Ephesians 5-6, is that not only is a parent’s relationship with his children one of many, but it is not even the most important relationship. A husband and wife should make their marriage of greater priority than their children, and each must give primacy to their individual relationship to God. So, the first point I wanted to make to the teens was that they are not, and should not expect to be, the top priority for their parents because their parents have other God-given responsibilities that they can not neglect. In our day of hyper-parenting, it is good to remind ourselves that our lives ought not revolve around our children, or any other human relationship, but they ought be centred on God.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Teach Them Gently

A few months ago I was privileged to speak with the youth of our church. I had been given the topic of "parents" and really enjoying preparing and presenting the message. Most of the youth are not from the church, so I enjoyed the challenge of dealing with the variety of questions that came from them, specifically as their varied living situations relate to the commands to obey their parents. Some questions were ones you’d typically expect from teenagers, and others were more complex.

"I spend weekdays with my mom, and weekends with my dad. Who should I obey? When?"

"My dad doesn’t want me going to the church’s youth group any more."

"My parents are dumb and don’t know anything. How can I respect them?"

"My mom thinks school is a waste of time and wants me to help in the store instead."

"My dad’s a drunk who doesn’t care about me."

And on and on.

I was grateful to God for the opportunity to share with them that the teachings of the Bible are relevant to their situations, that God is able to be a help in difficult times, that God is willing to deal with us regardless of our current spiritual maturity.

I have been convicted of late by the words of James 3:13.

"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom."

The phrase "gentleness of wisdom" has really stuck with me.

How often when dealing with the social and moral issues of our day do we who are believers come across as harsh, or intransigent or unloving because of the manner in which we present our understanding of what the Bible teaches. We can become critical and seem smug or even, forgive us, superior, to those we are seeking to convince. May God grant that we present the truth He has revealed in Scripture in such a fashion that our manner does not invalidate what our mouths are speaking. It is such a difficult thing to present uncompromising truth in a gentle, loving spirit that we need to cry out to God for His help, because we know without that assistance, we will fail. We need to pray that we will be known for love and truth, and the gentleness of wisdom.

Next time, I’ll write on what I actually taught the youth about God’s plan for children and parents.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Walk in Love

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
- Ephesians 5:1-2

My family and I have been blessed to be worshipping with the believers are Grimsby Bible Church Sunday evenings the past few months. We have been working our way through I Peter and a few weeks ago Kirk Wellum brought a message from I Peter 1: 22-25 in which he spoke about the importance and priority of love, especially among believers. As always, it was both exegetically sound and challenging. In the days that followed, we Marshes have been presented with numerous opportunities to serve others in often unpleasant ways. It has been inconvenient and tiring, disruptive to our schedules and distracting from our plans, but we are thankful that God in His grace and by His Spirit has reminded us of His command to walk in love and given us the discipline and willingness to serve. I can not say it has been easy, but we all feel the satisfaction that obedience to the Lord brings and I pray my entire family will continue to learn how to love one another cheerfully, and from the heart.

I am sometimes asked why I blog on the ten commandments. After all, we are under grace and the Law of Christ, not the Law of Moses. We ought to focus on love alone. While I heartily agree that the chief end of Christ’s law is to love God and to love our neighbours (Mat 22:37-39) I also freely acknowledge my own sinful and deceptive heart. In a day when love has lost much of its objective meaning and had become largely self-defined, the ten commandments, especially the final six, serve as practical examples of how I am to love my neighbour. I can so easily justify my own selfish desires that I thank God He has given commands to not covet, to be honest with others in all things, and to bear with one another.

May the God of all grace glory help each one of us to “walk in love”, sincerely, truthfully and sacrificially.

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
- I Peter 1:22

Monday, March 03, 2008

What I've been reading

From left to right:

Worship by the Book
Edited: Don Carson

Easily the best book currently in print about corporate worship. Carson and his co-authors write thoughtfully and well about the subject. The first chapter alone is worth several times the cover price. It has heavily influenced my own thinking on corporate worship and though this was my third time through, I still gleaned more from it than from almost any other current book on the subject.

Business for the Glory of God
Wayne Grudem

Grudem offers a fairly superficial overview (it's a short book!) of the morality associated with various activities associated with business. He is clearly coming from a distinctive economic perspective, but never the less, challenges the reader to think biblically and clearly about engaging in business activies.

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
Mark Dever

This is a good, popular level book, clearly written by a Pastor, about the characteristics of a healthy church. It is not a restatement of the classical view of the 'true church', but is rather a practical corrective to many of the features of contemporary churches which distract from the purpose of the church. An easy, but worthwhile read.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peaceful Contentment - Generosity

I’ve been writing about how by giving our children an allowance we hope to instill in them a spirit of contentment that results in gratitude, mercy and generosity. I’ve discussed mercy and gratitude, and now, generosity.

When we give them an allowance, it is a gift, with no conditions on it’s deposition save one: that they record what they plan to do with it. So, our tradition is that when they receive their allowance on Saturday, they record the amount in their account books, then decide how much to give at church, then how much to give to the Compassion children we sponsor for them, and finally how much they want to save.

Naturally, we give guidance to them as they decide and have tried to teach and demonstrate qualities of gratitude, mercy and generosity in how we handle money, but ultimately, the decision is theirs.

So far, with both the older children (who are believers) it has worked exceptionally well. My wife and I are both surprised and grateful about the degree of their generosity. Without hesitation or remorse, they freely give the majority of their money away. Further, they will frequently spend the money left over on gifts for the children we sponsor who live in developing nations. As I plan out our finances and expenses for the year, I am inspired by my children to give money away, not out of obligation, but from a spirit of gratitude, mercy and generosity befitting one who follows Jesus.

But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.
I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

II Corinthians 8:7-9

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chesterton on Virtue

The Modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; but their truth is pitiless. And thus some humanitarians care only for pity; but their pity--I am sorry to say--is often untruthful.
- G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Peaceful Contentment - Mercy

We’re still talking about allowances for our children and how we use it as a tool to encourage contentment. I’ve talked about the idea of gratitude, and our desire to instill it in our children, but like all spiritual development, we hope it will manifest itself in practical ways. We hope that helping them learn to receive all material benefits with gratitude and thanksgiving will help them be generous and merciful as well.

Mercy is a key attribute of any true follower of Jesus. Just as God, in Christ, was merciful to us, and Christ in turn had compassion upon the masses who came to Him, so we desire that our family, ourselves and our children to be merciful in our dealings with others. To that end, we sponsor children in the developing world through Compassion. My wife and I have been involved since our first years of marriage and on the occasion of a Marshling turning five; we begin sponsoring a child of the same gender and birth-date. So far, Emily and Timothy have benefited greatly from corresponding with their sponsored children, from praying for them, and from contributing to their sponsorship financially. Our hope is that as they grow and they are better able to afford it, they will begin to take on more and more of the financial support of their ‘adopted’ siblings.

If you’ve ever wondered about how to assist the developing world, consider sponsoring a child through Compassion. It’s only $35 a month, which supplies food, shelter, education and unapologetic instruction in the Christianity. One of the consequences of living lives of contented gratitude is a desire to mercifully help those in need. Compassion has been a great way from our family to do that.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Peaceful Contentment - Gratitude

A few weeks ago I promised to talk about how we try to encourage an attitude of peaceful contentment in our home. There are obviously many ways we do it, but one way is by giving the older children an allowance. Beyond the practical reasons of developing their arithmetic and money skills, we believe there are specific spiritual benefits to receiving an allowance and being taught how to handle money.

The main goals we have are teaching them a spirit of gratitude, mercy and generosity.

One way we use the allowance to teach them gratitude is by keeping the allowance a true gift. It is not earned by doing chores or other jobs: these are part of the responsibility of everyone living in the house to “through love, serve one another”. The allowance also is not necessary for them to meet their needs; they have food, shelter and clothing, their allowance can be used for anything else they might want, but not need. Ultimately, this is the same way in which God deals with us. He pours out common grace on all by providing sun, rain, springtime and harvest. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights “ (James 1:17). We do nothing to earn or merit His grace; rather, He gives generously to us out of His own love and mercy. Our reaction should be unrestricted gratitude and thanksgiving, but instead we often squirm and complain and want more. In making our children’s allowance a free gift, we are seeking to instill in them a sense of gratitude, not to us, but to God, their heavenly father.

More on mercy and generosity next time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Doug Wilson on Law and Gospel

Here's a great quotation from Doug Wilson on "Hearing 'Law' and 'Gospel'":

For the perishing, the entire Bible is law. It is heard as law, as condemnation, and as a hateful word of authority.The unbeliever refuses to honor God as God and refuses to give Him thanks. Even the common kindnesses poured out on him - sunshine, food, health - obligate him to render thanks, but he hates to do so. The obligation is therefore perceived by him as hateful law. But when a man hears with faith, the entire Bible is Gospel - good news, relief, rest. The unregenerate heart reacts to the Ten Commandments as though there were nothing there but thunder, lightning, and blue ruin. The regenerate heart hears the preamble to the Ten Commandments - "I am the Lord you God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Ex. 20:2). The law is Gospel, and obedience proceeds from gratitude.

The law is altogether lovely and gracious. But the law presents itself this way to those who have already been saved through the Cross. For those still in the grip of unbelief, the law terrifies and makes them shrink back from the mountain. But, of course, the Gospel makes them shrink back the same way.

So the division that makes sense is the division between sheep and goats, wheat and tares, believers and unbelievers. And it is the Word of God, sharper than any sword, which makes this distinction.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Delightful Sundays Redux

One of the ways we celebrate Sundays is feasting after the morning church service. We stay in our nice clothes, set the table as beautifully as we're able (we use our good china, though our youngest still gets a sippy-cup: see photo), drink fancy drinks out of elegant glassware (sippy-cup exceptions duly noted) and enjoy the finest meal of the week. In this case, roast chicken with potatoes, gravy, broccoli and a splendid dessert.

Then, after having naps and playing quiet games, we have a fancy tea time prior to attending the evening service. Again, we use our fine china tea cups, drink lapsang souchong and eat splendid treats. It is all part of our desire to truly enjoy a sabbath rest and to feast in a biblical way.

Some people think those who celebrate Sunday are sticks in the mud, and some people with a high view of Sunday are. However, I'm salivating just looking at these photos. Sabbath feasting: It sure beats mowing the lawn!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

What I've Been Reading

Continuing my thoughts from a couple posts ago on reading in Canada and what that means for evangelism and teaching within the church, I thought I would periodically post books I have recently read. I haven't done it this time, but in future, I may include a capsule review. For now, I'll just post the covers. So, here goes:

Gulliver's Travels
Jonathan Swift

The Histories
Herodotus (trans. David Grene)
440 BC (trans. 1987)

Love Rules

Parallels and Paradoxes
Edward Said & Daniel Barenboim

How Shall We Worship?
Marva Dawn

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ten - Contentment

The subprime mortgage crisis in the United States has triggered a lot of uncertainty in the markets and elsewhere and has prompted reactions from the Federal Reserve and other government institutions. As someone who works in the banking sector (specifically in the lending area) the crisis is of professional interest, but it is the spiritual lessons that are most valuable.

There have been many theories offered about the economic root of the crisis and what can be done to solve it, but I have yet to read in any newspaper that the main root of the problem is greed, or, to use the language of the decalogue: covetousness.

It was covetousness that led some people to borrow money for homes they couldn’t afford, but wanted, and it was covetousness that led banks to loan money to people who had little chance of paying it back. Credit is a useful tool that helps society function, and it is not wrong to have aspirations, but when desire overcomes prudence and we begin to make foolish choices to gain what we want, we have crossed over to covetousness. As with so many of the things that trouble us, the problem lies in the heart.

Of course, now that we are in the crisis, many are wondering what will become of them and their assets (hence the paniced selling and accompanying stock market drops), yet it seems that in many cases, this panic is just compounding one sin (covetousness) with another (fear). They both have, at their root, a lack of trust in God.

The positive implication of the tenth commandment is that we should be content with God’s provision. God has given us all we need and it is important to strive to be content with that and accept God’s wisdom in what He chooses to give and what He chooses to withhold. "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." - Matthew 6:31,32

If we can remember that promise, then, we can say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Phil 4:11-13.

Next time, I'll talk about how we try to encourage an attitude of peaceful contentment in our children.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Four - Delightful Sundays

A portion of my reading today:

"If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the LORD,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

Isaiah 58:13, 14 (emphasis mine)

Isaiah 58 follows the great sequence of chapters detailing the redemption of God's people by the suffering servant (Jesus) and begins a description of what the restoration of His people will be like. This chapter specifically speaks of the need for, and pleasant consequences of, obedience to God.

The phrase that really caught my attention this time through was "call the sabbath a delight". That is exactly what we have tried to do at the Marsh household for the past few years. Some Christians try to ignore Sunday, but for those who observe it, it is easy to view Sunday as a burden, (E.g. "I have to go to church", "I can’t mow the lawn", etc.). However, I don’t want my family to "observe" Sunday, I want us to celebrate it! My wife and I have tried to arrange our day so that Sunday is the best day of the week for our family, the day we look forward to the most. For example, our afternoons involve the best meal of the week, with fine china and fancy drinks, naps for everyone, short walks in the neighbourhood, afternoon tea with special snacks and lapsang souchong tea.

I have heard a theory that it was after the Babylonian captivity that the Sabbath became burdensome and oppressive. The theory goes that the Babylonians had many special or ‘holy’ days that they observed, but the purpose of the days was not to celebrate their blessings or commemorate some great event, but to avoid bad luck. I suppose it would be similar to the superstitions some people have about breaking mirrors or spilling salt. The Israelites absorbed these bad attitudes, syncretized them into Sabbath, and were burdened by the day until Jesus came reminded them that the Sabbath was given as a gift, not a curse.

It is true that there are many things we refrain from doing on Sundays, not as a punishment or burden, but as a declaration on our faith and trust in God. For example:

I do not go to work on Sundays, even when it would be financially beneficial to do so, because I want to declare that God is the source of my families material provision, not my employer or career.

We do not shop on Sundays, even when it might save money, because we want to declare that our satisfaction is in the Lord and what He has already graciously provided, not in what we can gather by our own skill. He has already provided all we need.
We do not go to sporting events or other entertainment venues on Sundays, not because we do not value relaxation and leisure, but we want to declare that our source of delight and joy is not in the temporal excitement of sports or the beauty of the arts, but in the Lord God.

For our family, we want to delight in what God has given, and so we plan for Sundays by spending the days before preparing for it with cleaning, baking, and planning, so that we can spend the day itself in thanksgiving and praise to God. Sundays are our day to declare that God is the source, centre and circumference of our every need. As Isaiah says, we delight in the day, so we can delight in our God.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Five – Worthy of Imitation

I have been reading through Ephesians, and was especially struck by the first verses of chapter 5: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, . The idea of imitating God is not new and reflecting God’s character is something all Christians should aspire to, but what I noticed while reading this time, was the comparison to children.

The implication of the passage is that children naturally imitate their parents, and therefore, as God is our father, so too should we imitate Him. It put me in mind of my own children, and the fact they imitate me in many ways: my mannerisms, my turns of phrase, and my values. It is sobering to think that my children are absorbing all this and more just by living with me and observing how I live my life. I was challenged by this passage to seek to live a life that is worthy of imitation, to be the kind of man that I want my boys to become, the kind of man I want my daughter to seek as a husband.

My God help me to walk in love and reflect His character. May He help me be a man who is honorable so that my children will find the fifth commandment, to honour their father and mother, the easiest of the ten to obey.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Reading and Teaching in Canada

You don’t have to look far to find articles and essays lamenting the decline of reading in our day. However, things are not as bad in Canada as they might be in other parts of the world. According to the Statistics Canada study, "Reading and Buying Books for Pleasure", only 13% of Canadians have not read a book in the past twelve months. Men and women read about the same amount, but their choice of reading material varies. Women tend to be readers of fiction and literature reading, while men focus on history, science and how-to books.

Reviewing this report made me think about how we share information about the truths of Christianity with our culture (and how I instruct my children in those truths). One thing the study seems to suggest is that, as a group, women value narrative, and infer meaning from it, while men respond to didactic, logical information.

Biblical Theology is an approach to studying God’s revelation that recognizes the progressive nature of God’s self-revelation in the Bible and emphasizes the broader historical context in which different sections of the Bible occur. Biblical theology, in other words, takes the Bible on it’s own terms, and makes sense of any passage in light of how it fits in to the meta-narrative of God’s plan of redemption.

Systematic Theology, on the other hand, takes a more topical, or thematic, approach. Typically beginning with God and seeing what the entire Bible says about Him, systematic theology moves on to other topics and creates an entire philosophical or theological framework in which to understand the Biblical revelation.

So, in light of the Statistics Canada report, I wonder if men are more attuned to systematic theology and women are more inclined to Biblical theology? If that’s so, I pray our approach to teaching and preaching in our churches and in our homes reflects the different inclinations of men and women in Canada, so that "we may present everyone complete in Christ" (Col. 1:28)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Law and Gospel: Part 10 : The Relevance of the Moral Laws of God in the 21st Century

Over the last couple of posts, we have looked at the three different types of Law found in the Old Testament and I made the point that, while some aspects of specific Old Testament commands are not applicable to contemporary Christians, that God’s moral law (summarized in the ten commandments and the great commandments of Christ) is eternal, unchanging, and written upon the heart of mankind.

That all may be so, but in what way do the law and gospel relate to current Christian living? My answer, and the answer we give our children, is that the ten commandments provide a rule for living, or, put another way, they give specific instruction regarding how a Gospel people should live. In other words, they serve the same function in the 21st Century as they did at Sinai: they answer the question, "How should God’s people live?".

We believe and confess that salvation is sola fide, by faith alone, but it is not a faith that is alone. James 2:11 and even Jesus’ summary words of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:24-27) preclude the possibility of a true believer making an empty confession. Our works still matter, not that they affect our standing before God, nor that by them we accrue favour, but because they demonstrate our faith.

But, how can we know if our works are rightly honouring to God and "worthy of the calling wherewith we were called"? Even living in light of the Gospel, is there not a rule of living given by God? Or, should each man be led independantly by the Holy Spirit into right living? There are those who claim that, because of the leading of the Holy Spirit, there are no standards of conduct for Christians, save the standard of "yielding to the Spirit. While not denying the work of the Spirit in each Christian’s life, I believe that this view only gives have the Biblical truth.

We believe that God has graciously revealed His mind on these matters. God has given specific commands, even to His New Testament people. Think of the specific commands of Christ. Think of the beginning of John’s ministry ("Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"). Think of the fuller understanding of the ten commandments laid out by Christ in Matthew 5-7. None of these statements make sense if there is not a transcendant, objective and revealed standard of conduct and life for the people of God. The idea of obedience is meaningless if there are no commands to which we should be obedient. The idea of repenting makes no sense if there is no rule of conduct that we have failed to keep.

I’ll conclude by saying, both "law" and "gospel" make demands, both offer promises and both are bathed in the grace of God. In many ways, the distinction between law and gospel is a false one: Law without a gospel is hopeless and condemning, a gospel without law is rudderless. The essential issue is how we respond to the demands and promises of God’s Word. May our gracious God help us live obediently to the praise of His glorious name.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Law and Gospel: Part 9: Reconciling the 'Contradictions'

As we saw in part 7, there are many apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding Law and Gospel we have dealt with some of those by examining the different types of laws in the Old Testament, but we still need to deal with the different New Testament passages, specifically as they relate to the moral law of God.

The book of Galatians can be a great help to us in sorting through this subject. We read that righteousness could only be imputed by the law if it was kept completely, with no failure on any point (Galatians 3:10; 5:3; James 2:11). This is a demonstrably false hope, because none can keep the law of God fully (especially the moral law; which is the point of Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler – Mark 10:17-30).

What then, was the point of the law? There have traditionally been three views of the purpose of the law, but the one we will discuss is that the law identifies what sin is. "because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." – Romans 3:20. Not only so, but the law shows us most emphatically that we can not be good enough for God on our own, that we are in desperate need of a Saviour.

This, in fact, is exactly what God did for us through Christ. "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." – Romans 8:3,4.

So, what we see is that the Law is not expired, it is still in force, but has been fulfilled for us in the sinless mediator between God and Man, Jesus Christ. He was made a propitiation for our sins and His righteousness has been imputed to us (Romans 4:25) and in this way, our righteousness can exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Mat 5:20).

This brief overview has not done justice to all the issues, or even all the verses, relating to this issue, but hopefully has provided some clarification. Next time, we will consider exactly what relationship a 21st Century Christian has with the Law.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Law and Gospel: Part 8 : The Three Types of Law

In attempting to reconcile the passages we looked at last time, it will be helpful to think of how then Old Testament law has traditionally been divided.

Civil laws – These are laws that governed the running of the nation of Israel during the time it was a theocracy. An example would be Deuteronomy 25:4 which gives direction to not muzzle an Ox while it is threshing. I think of these laws as analogous to the local lawn watering by-law and similar rules in our day. They were intended to be in effect only for a specific time and place. When Israel ceased to be a nation, these laws were no longer applicable. They do, however, reflect the character of God in the underlying principles of justice and mercy that they exhibit (I Corinthians 9:8-10).

Ceremonial laws – These are laws that dealt primarily with how God’s people should interact with Him and worship Him. Violations of them were dealt with harshly, and they all pointed towards Christ and were all fulfilled in Him (Colossians 2:14-17; Ephesians 2:14-16; Hebrews 10:1-18 )[1]. Thus, these too are abolished in the sense that they were but a shadow, a promise, of things which have now become a present reality in Christ.

Moral Laws – These are laws pertaining to the immutable morality of God. The Bible teaches that all are under obligation to obey these laws (Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-15) and that they are a reflection of God’s character (James 2:8-12) Further, it’s clear that far from abolishing them, Jesus clarified and strengthened them (Matthew 5:17-19). In fact, Jesus not only reiterates the ten commandments throughout the New Testament, but he usually raises the standard of obedience above what was commonly being practiced at the time. One example: "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court;” (Matthew 5:21,22b).

In summary, civil and ceremonial laws are no longer in effect, but the moral law of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments and summarized in the Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-34) has been written on the hearts of all mankind and will never pass away. I'll try to be clear here: I do not believe the Ten Commandments are binding on believers in the way they had been understood in the Old Covenant, but that they are useful as a reflection of the moral law of God that was perfected in Christ.

Next time, we’ll continue to discuss how to reconcile the different verses on the law we read in the New Testament.

[1] I have not reproduced the scripture passages here, because they are lengthy, but encourage you to follow the links and read the entire passage.